Reaching the Sidelhorn from the Grimselpass – 2764m

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Monday 8 September 2014

Reaching the Sidelhorn from the Grimselpass – 2764m

Setting off towards the summit of the Sidelhorn at 2764m on Monday morning, we felt relieved to be starting out from 2150m already rather than some of the mammoth hikes we had tackled in the previous week and the short but steep ride up the Furkapass. The Sidelhorn, which is relatively easy to reach from the top of the Grimselpass is a rocky and pointed summit, which stands clear above its closest neighbours and so affords excellent views right into the heart of the Bernese Alps, including the famous peaks of the Eiger and Jungfrau, on a clear day at least.

With just 600m of climbing to go we felt relaxed about the day ahead but with just one uncertainty - the weather. Despite having opened our blinds that morning to a clear crystal blue sky, the weather had already deteriorated by mid-morning when we set off into a patchwork of grey clouds that shifted continuously from peak to peak and threatened to hide the view we wanted to see. Climbing gently away from the parking, straight onto the muddy tracks, we traversed slowly upwards and around the southern flank of the Sidelhorn on a well marked track that soon led us onto much more rocky terrain. The views were spectacular from the outset and even from these lower slopes we were treated to an excellent perspective right down the Valais towards Mont Blanc (which was shrouded in cloud today) and south into Italy. Also revealed was the tongue of the Rhone Glacier which we had visited just the day before, its bulk now hidden behind a mighty wall of jagged rock at over 3000m on the opposite side of the Grimselpass.

After an hour of this steady hiking the way turned north and steepened, now progressing over the rockfall beneath the summit of the Sidelhorn, strewn with loose boulders that made the way more challenging. Breathing heavily, after 2 hours we reached the col 100m below the summit to give us our first proper look to the north and into the Bernese Alps. Although the clouds had continued to gather and were currently hiding the highest 4000m peaks that we had hoped to see, the view remained clear of the Oberaar and Unteraar Glaciers which sweep down eastwards from two adjacent valleys from the flanks of the Oberaarhorn (3629m) and Schreckhorn (4078m) respectively. The two valleys, separated by a 3000m ridge, were clearly visible from our vantage point and their boulder strewn glaciers looked majestic beneath the dark clouds.

Starting our way up the final ascent and despite the relatively small climb we were undertaking today, the pointed summit meant that the final approach was steep and challenging, with loose rocks moving underfoot interspersed with gigantic boulders that we scrambled over. The pointed summit did mean that on arriving we were now treated to a beautiful 360 degree panoramic, piecing together all of the snippets we had seen during our ascent – the Rhone Glacier, Italy, the Valais, Mont Blanc and the Bernese Alps – and we settled in amongst the summit cairns to enjoy the view.

As seems to be our habit, we lingered at the top for a couple of hours despite the chilly breeze as other hikers came and went, pausing only for a few quick photos before heading down. However, we had no hurry since our home was parked just an hour or so descending away. Besides the clouds were tantalising us by showing signs of clearing over the Bernese Alps and we didn't want to miss the view if they did. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, as the afternoon wore on the dark clouds that had been hiding the 4000m peaks drifted away, illuminating the previously dark glaciers with bright sunshine and revealing the Schreckhorn and nearby Finsteraarhorn (4274m) topped with snow standing far above the other nearby peaks. Plus, as an added bonus we could now even make out southern, snowy side of the famous Eiger nestling just to the north of these giants.

Descending in the bright afternoon sunshine we took the time to carry on absorbing the view and the peacefulness of this mountain. Having already decided to stay at least one more night enjoying the tranquility of the Grimselpass we slowly made our way back to the van and a welcome warm meal, before enjoying another beautiful sunset over the hills. There is just something about being so high and remote as the evening drew in and the handful of day visitors had left that we both felt so at home in this otherwise rugged and inhospitable landscape.  

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